A brief overview of Privileged Access Management (PAM)A brief overview of Privileged Access Management (PAM)

As organizations increasingly rely on digital technology, securing privileged access to critical systems and data has become a paramount concern. Privileged access management (PAM) is a crucial component of any comprehensive cybersecurity strategy. In this article, we will take a deep dive into PAM, exploring its definition, importance, best practices, and the tools used in implementing it.

What is Privileged Access Management (PAM)?

Privileged Access Management (PAM) is a cybersecurity practice that involves securing and managing privileged access to critical systems and sensitive data. Privileged access refers to the highest level of access in an organization’s IT infrastructure that enables users to control and modify critical systems and data. Examples of privileged accounts include administrator accounts, database administrators, network engineers, and other IT staff with privileged access to sensitive data.

PAM ensures that privileged access is granted only to authorized personnel and that access is granted on a need-to-know basis. It also ensures that access is monitored, recorded, and audited to detect and prevent any unauthorized access or misuse of privileged accounts.

Why is Privileged Access Management Important?

Privileged access is a prime target for cyber attackers, and a single compromised privileged account can result in a catastrophic data breach or system compromise. According to a recent survey, 74% of data breaches involved privileged access abuse. PAM helps organizations mitigate the risk of privileged access abuse by enforcing strict controls, such as the principle of least privilege, strong password management, and regular reviews and audits.

PAM also helps organizations meet compliance requirements, such as HIPAA, PCI DSS, and GDPR, which mandate strict controls over access to sensitive data. Failure to comply with these regulations can result in hefty fines, damage to the organization’s reputation, and legal liabilities.

Types of Privileged Accounts

Privileged accounts are user accounts that have elevated access to critical systems, applications, or data within an organization’s IT infrastructure. These accounts are often used by IT staff, system administrators, developers, and other personnel who require elevated privileges to perform their job functions.

There are several types of privileged accounts, including:

  1. Administrator Accounts: These accounts have the highest level of privileges within an organization’s IT infrastructure. They are typically used by system administrators to manage servers, network devices, and other critical IT resources.
  2. Root Accounts: Root accounts are similar to administrator accounts, but they are specific to Unix and Linux operating systems. They provide unrestricted access to the operating system and all its components.
  3. Service Accounts: Service accounts are used by applications and services to access other applications, services, or data within an organization’s IT infrastructure. They are often used to automate tasks and perform maintenance activities.
  4. Non-human Automation Accounts: These accounts are associated with an application, operating system, database, service, network device, etc. that is shared among multiple assets to enable functionality. While non-human automation accounts generally do not have blanket administrative rights, the compromise of one asset with the shared account can easily be used for lateral movement. In general, the existence of shared accounts represents a poor security practice. Yet, shared accounts persist because they are offering the most practical method to enable a use case.
  5. Database Administrator Accounts: These accounts have privileged access to databases and are used to manage, configure, and maintain databases.
  6. Network Device Administrator Accounts: These accounts are used to manage network devices, such as routers, switches, and firewalls. They provide privileged access to configure and maintain network infrastructure.
  7. Application Administrator Accounts: These accounts have elevated privileges within specific applications or software systems. They are used to manage, configure, and maintain applications and their associated data.
  8. Break glass Accounts:- These accounts are also referred to as emergency accounts or firecall accounts. Break glass accounts enable the user immediate access to an account they may not normally be authorized to access. Access may be provided to the highest-level system accounts, such as root accounts for Unix or SYS/SA for a database. As these accounts are only meant to be used during emergencies, access is typically time-limited via password expiration or other measures.

It’s important for organizations to identify all privileged accounts and implement strict controls over them to prevent unauthorized access or misuse. This includes implementing a privileged access management (PAM) solution that enforces strong authentication, access control, and monitoring of privileged accounts.

Key Features of PAM Tools

PAM tools offer several key features that help organizations manage privileged access. Some of these features include:

  • Password management: PAM tools allow organizations to manage and secure privileged account passwords.
  • Access control: PAM tools provide a centralized platform for controlling and monitoring privileged access to critical systems and data.
  • Session monitoring: PAM tools allow organizations to monitor privileged user sessions in real-time, enabling them to detect and respond to suspicious activity.
  • Reporting and auditing: PAM tools provide detailed reports and auditing capabilities, allowing organizations to monitor and track privileged access.
  • Integration with other security tools: PAM tools can be integrated with other security tools such as SIEM, IAM, and DLP, allowing organizations to enhance their overall cybersecurity posture.

Best Practices for Privileged Access Management

Privileged access management (PAM) is critical to ensuring the security of an organization’s IT infrastructure. Effective PAM solutions help organizations protect against data breaches, cyber attacks, and other security threats. Here are some best practices for implementing PAM:

  1. Inventory and Identify Privileged Accounts: Identify and catalog all privileged accounts in your organization’s IT infrastructure. This includes service accounts, administrator accounts, and other accounts with elevated privileges. Keep a record of each account, its purpose, and its level of access.
  2. Implement the Principle of Least Privilege: Assign privileges only to users who need them to perform their job functions. Restrict access to critical systems and data to only those who require it.
  3. Use Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): Use MFA to authenticate privileged users before granting access. This includes something the user knows (such as a password), something they have (such as a token), and/or something they are (such as biometric data).
  4. Use Strong Passwords and Rotate Them Regularly: Require strong passwords for privileged accounts and enforce password rotation policies. This helps prevent unauthorized access in case a password is compromised.
  5. Limit Administrative Access: Limit administrative access to only those who require it. Create separate administrative accounts that are used only for administrative tasks. These accounts should not be used for other activities, such as browsing the internet or accessing email.
  6. Monitor and Audit Privileged Access: Monitor privileged access and maintain a record of all activity related to privileged accounts. This includes logging all privileged access attempts and reviewing these logs regularly.
  7. Use Role-Based Access Control (RBAC): Use RBAC to manage access to critical systems and data. Assign privileges based on job function, not on the individual user.
  8. Implement Session Management: Implement session management to monitor and control the activities of privileged users during a session. This includes monitoring keystrokes and other activities, and terminating a session if suspicious activity is detected.
  9. Regularly Review and Update PAM Policies: Regularly review and update PAM policies to ensure they align with changes in the organization’s IT infrastructure and security requirements.

Top 10 Privileged Access Management Tools

  • Tool 1: CyberArk
  • Tool 2: BeyondTrust
  • Tool 3: Delinea(Formally Thycotic Secret Server)
  • Tool 4: ManageEngine
  • Tool 5: IBM Security Secret Server
  • Tool 6: Centrify
  • Tool 7: One Identity Safeguard
  • Tool 8: Wallix
  • Tool 9: Zoho Vault
  • Tool 10: Hitachi ID Privileged Access Manager


Privileged access management is a critical component of any organization’s security posture. By implementing a comprehensive PAM solution, organizations can mitigate the risks associated with privileged access and protect their sensitive data and systems from cyber threats. With the challenges in

By Editorial Team

CyberSecurity is an independent cybersecurity research and reviews website to help organizations research and find the right solutions to solve their business problems.

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